Meet the Locals

Lena Strang talks to another local who has not achieved fame and fortune but whose hard work positively impacts the region.

José Rodrigo is a man with a clear mission. He spends his days watching over a herd of cows, ensuring that they are safe during the day and are securely escorted to the compound at night.

As I approach the land bordering on a small condominium on the Funchal Ridge in Lagos, I know I’m in the right place. The unmistakable tinkling of cowbells can be heard from a distance. Sure enough, I find José sitting by a wall watching over the cows grazing contentedly in the shade of pine trees.

He tells me he’s from nearby Odiáxere and has spent all his life in the region. Earlier he worked in the construction industry but due to an accident six years ago, he took up his new vocation as a cattle herd. “I like this job,” he smiles, “Cows are quiet animals and good company.”

He looks after 15 cows, one bull, and four calves for the owner who has a farm nearby. They are the popular French breed Limousine, introduced into Portugal some decades ago. Being rustic and docile, they have adapted well to the conditions here. With their velvety light brown colour and lighter hue around the head, they look rather attractive. As good breeders, they produce exceptional calves, and this is what José confirms: “The owner keeps them just to breed. All have now been impregnated and will produce their calves during the winter. Some of the female calves are kept and the rest are sold for meat.”

The area where they are grazing is rented for six weeks, after which they are moved on to another enclosure. It’s secured by an electric fence during the day to avoid the cows wandering off. As the area is popular with walkers, José wants to alert people to take care and not touch the fence for obvious reasons.

He gives me some interesting facts about cows. Did I know that they walk about 10 km and munch 9 kg of grass each day? Unlike goats, who eat everything clean, they allow the grass to regrow. “Not only is the manure good for the soil, but the owner can sell it,” he says. I didn’t know either that cows only produce the milk necessary for the sustenance of the calf, which is six litres per day.

What does he do all day while watching over the cows? “I walk around, play with the cows and enjoy the fresh air. Although when it rains, I have to bring an umbrella!” he laughs.

During his life, José has seen much change in the region. There is more construction in the countryside where cattle once used to graze. He looks around. “Instead of all these modern villas, there used to be a farm right here surrounded by barley fields.” He feels overdevelopment has had a negative effect on agriculture and traditional ways of life.

He is content to spend the next few years until retirement ensuring that the cows he is responsible for are getting the best care.

Did you know?

There are 14 native cow species in Portugal, including an Algarvian breed.

In 1950 there were more than 20,000 of this breed, but they faced extinction. In Budens, Vila do Bispo, 11 were found, classified as Algarve breed.

In collaboration with the University of the Algarve, local breeders are intent on saving the species using artificial insemination. The plan is to have 150 exemplars by 2022.


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